Isaac Newton (1643–1727) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646–1716) invented calculus at the same time but independently of one another!

When Newton and Leibniz first published their results, there was great controversy over which mathematician (and therefore which country) deserved credit. Newton derived his results first, but Leibniz published first. Newton claimed Leibniz stole ideas from his unpublished notes, which Newton had shared with a few members of the Royal Society. This controversy divided English-speaking mathematicians from continental mathematicians for many years, to the detriment of English mathematics. A careful examination of the papers of Leibniz and Newton shows that they arrived at their results independently, with Leibniz starting first with integration and Newton with differentiation.

To be sure, both inventors were standing on the shoulders of mathematicians who had been piecing calculus together since 1800 BCE, but the primary factor calculus came about when it did was that the time was right.

The term eLearning also enjoyed simultaneous discovery, probably in many places. In the late nineties two trends converged to make the timing right.

  1. e was in the air. In 1997, Pierre Omidyar founded eBay; he chose the name because his first choice, Echo Bay, had already been taken. eCommerce, which was mainly about buying things online, was morphing into eBusiness, which involved doing things online. E-mail was becoming email. E-loan announced e-track. People read e-zines and e-books. Before the web, we had EDI (electronic data interchange) and EFT (electronic funds transfer).
  2. The meme of learning was replacing training. Training is something trainers push to trainees. Learning is whatever gets past one’s personal firewall (AKA cranium) and lodges in the brain. I can learn something; you can’t learn me anything. A big part of the sales pitch for early versions of web-supported learning was the elimination of costly trainers. You couldn’t very well call this training.

e + learning. No wonder eLearning sprouted up in many places. Elliott Masie’s bio says he is “acknowledged as the first analyst to use the term e-Learning.” Elliott told me he first heard the term at IBM. I am credited with the first use of eLearning on the web. Six months that CBT Systems announced its transformation into SmartForce, the eLearning company, in late 1999, every training company with a dial-up connection and a web page claimed to have eLearning. The term was counterfeited at warp speed and was soon FUBAR.


What kicked off this outpouring? I am weary of answering the question “Jay, did you invent the term eLearning?” with explanations of “Yes, me and a thousand other people.”

This morning, in his delightful blog Here Comes Everybody, Ken Carroll talks about whether his amazing ChinesePod is setting learning standards.

An integrated learning 2.0 scenario

There is a general agreement about the need for learning environments, learnscapes, or learning eco-systems, that enable participation, collaboration, and user-input, etc. The central organizing principle should, of course, be the network, with all the attendant network qualities and the right social software. The key thing about a network is that everything is connected to everything else. Connecting the people and all the bits enables the sharing, the discussion, the dissemination of good learning practices, as well as the self-expression, the debate, and all the other things that make human learning possible.

In this scenario, the learners are necessarily in control because networks break down hierarchies. The role of the instructor (or practitioner) is that of modelling and demonstrating, rather than as arbiters or controllers.

Learners are then free to select content on a self-service basis, and at the times that they, themselves choose, preferably from an input-rich environment, with a variety of ways to consume it. (Learning is multi-dimensional.) It also needs to be self-directed and happen through direct experience and personal decisions, rather than through instruction and vicarious decisions.

Within this adaptive, de-centralized, recursive, and exploratory learning environment, content needs to be cognitive, and engaging. An inductive approach that allows learners to participate, to discover meaning, to reflect, and identify patterns, takes precedence over lectures because learning is individualistic, and subjective. All the while, members of the community can communicate

godfather2_corleone.jpgLike Michael Corleone answering Fay’s question about the family business, I plan to answer this question but once: “Jay, did you invent the term Learnscape?”

“Yes, me and a thousand other people.” The time was right.

My take on Learnscapes parallels Ken’s.

  • Learning is a process, not an event. A Learnscape is where that process plays out.
  • Learnscapes are learning ecosystems.
  • A learnscape is a learning ecology. It’s learning without borders.
  • learnscapes.jpg

    Informal learning is about situated action, collaboration, coaching, and reflection — not classes. Developing a platform to support informal learning is analogous to landscaping a garden. You don’t make the platform; you make what’s there better.

    A major component of informal learning is natural learning, the notion of treating people as organisms in nature. Our role as learning professionals is to protect their environment, provide nutrients for growth, and let nature take its course.

    Self-service learners connect to one another, to ongoing flows of information and work, to their teams and organizations, to their customers and markets, not to mention their families and friends. Because the design of informal learning ecosystems is analogous to landscape design, I will call the environment of informal learning a learnscape.

    A landscape designer’s goal is to conceptualize a harmonious, unified, pleasing garden that makes the most of the site at hand. A learnscaper strives to create a learning environment that increases the organization’s longevity and health, and the individual learner’s happiness and well-being. Gardeners don’t control plants; managers don’t control people. Gardeners and managers have influence but not absolute authority. They can’t make a plant fit into the landscape or a person fit into a team.


    Learnscape Health Checklist

    Individual skills & support Optimal network Learning Culture
    Third places
    Online discussions
    Informal support of formal
    Visual support
    Fast: IM
    Each one/teach one Foster collaboration BBS, VoIP, discussion boards Coach
    Tech savvy
    Mindful Web 2.0
    Refined PKM

    Conferences & unmeetings
    Meta-Learning: reflection
    Performance support
    Large screen
    Ease of access

    Right people-ONA
    Internet inside
    Search: Findable: social search, tabs, federated search, tagging, cross-linking, V-search. Find people, too. Tag clouds.
    Include customers & partners
    Bus & bike